The University of Iowa College of Liberal Arts & Sciences Department of English

O. E. Rolvaag, Giants in the Earth

Part I:

The Norwegian version of this novel was titled, Verdens Grøde (World’s Harvest). What different effect is created by the English-language title? Which do you prefer?

What is implied in the subtitle, “A Saga of the Prairie”?

What is added by the use of a biblical quotation for the epigraph? What viewpoint toward the novel’s themes is indicated by the passage chosen?

From what point of view is the novel told? Is the narrator entirely omniscient? Whose thoughts are most represented?

What are some stylistic features of the novel? (descriptions, use of sentences and paragraphs, diction, etc.)

What basic contrasts organize the plot? What are the respective goals of Per Hansa and Beret?

For whom are we intended to have more sympathy, or is the portrayal of Per Hansa and Beret equally balanced?

What is added by the portrayal of their neighbors, and of the Norwegian community as a whole?

What seems to have been Rolvaag’s purpose in presenting two such temperamentally opposed characters?

How rare would the theme of mental illness have been in this time, and in this context? Can you think of earlier works of literature which describe the mental deterioration of a house-bound woman?

Are any incidents in the novel humorous?

How are the Indians portrayed? Did the outcome of their visit surprise you? Why do you think Rolvaag included this incident, and what seems to have been his views on the relationship between European-descended and native peoples?

What moral issues are involved in the episode of the markers? What do you think may have been the legal issues? Do we know whether the Irishmen had valid claims, and whether Hans Olsa and Syvert had successfully laid title to their land?

How does the narrative seem to judge Per Hansa’s taking of the law into his own hands? How do his and Beret’s different interpretations of the incident indicate their different views of morality? How is the problem of overlapping claims resolved?

In general, how do conflicts seem to be resolved throughout the novel?

What role is served by nature in the book? To what extent is nature seen as lovely, menacing or hostile?

What creates forward movement of the plot? What are some of the problems faced by the immigrants, and which seem most frightening?

What are some features of the novel’s presentation of character? To what degree do these portrayals seem realistic? Stereotyped?

How are the Irishmen presented? Might their behavior reflect national stereotypes?

What do you make of the repeated use of the motif of fairy tales, and the characters’ references to trolls? Do these references change as the book progresses?

How important is religion within the narrative? Are the characters deeply religious? What kind of religious attitudes does the novel seem to approve?

To what extent would you call this a realist novel, and why? Does it contain sentimental or romantic features?

What social ideals would you say underlie the plot? 

What issues of language and dialect are raised throughout the novel? How does the author deal with the fact that Norwegian regional linguistic differences must be presented in translation?

How are the two sections of the novel balanced? What event occurs at the end of the first book, and what does this seem to harbinger for the future?

What do the immigrants predict for the newly born son? (Rolvaag’s son Karl Rolvaag became a leader of the Farmer-Labor Party and later the populist governor of Minnesota.)

How do others respond to the new arrival?

How are the two sections of the novel balanced? What event occurs at the end of the first book, and what does this seem to harbinger for the future?

Part II:

What is the importance of the title of this section, and of the chapter titles? (e. g., “On the Border of Utter Darkness,” 283) What do you predict may occur?

What major incidents occur in the second part? Do these unfold in order of importance?

Does Per Hansa’s view of his situation seem to evolve or deepen in the second half of the novel?

What roles are played by the new school? What seems to be the novel’s view of the proper content and tone of education?

How does Per Hansa treat his animals? In general, how does the novel portray the appropriate relation between humans and animals?

What happens to Per Hansa on his trip to obtain supplies (“On the Border of Darkness,” 304-6)

What are his thoughts as he believes he is dying? (310-11) When he reaches safety, what are his first concerns? (317)

What different relationship do the former inhabitants of different regions of Norway (the Trönders and Helgalaendingers) now have?

What motivates the group to alter their names? On what grounds does Beret disapprove of this change? What do we learn about the current status of their land claims? (324)

On what basis is Per Hansa able to sell furs? Did this surprise you? What is Beret’s mood as the first part ends? (334-35)

What is referred to by the section title: “Power of Evil in High Places”? (II.1, 336)

What is Per Hansa’s reaction when he fears all his sown wheat has been rotted by moisture?

What fate is suffered by the westward-bound family whose child has died on the prairie? What is disturbing about their presence? How do the Hansens/Holms respond to them?

What changes/intensifications are seen in Beret’s behavior after this point?

When does the plague of locusts appear, and what are its consequences?

What is referred to in the title, “The Glory of the Lord”? What effect does the visiting minister have on the community—e. g., Syvert, Per Hansa, and Beret?

What incident disrupts the first baptismal ceremony?

When Per Hansa recounts his anxieties, what advice does the minister give him, and how does the former respond?

What efforts does the minister make to attempt to help? To what extent is he successful? Of which aspects of his ministry does the narrative seem to affirm?

Why do Hans Olsa and Sörina offer to care for little Peder, and on what grounds does Per Hansa refuse? How does Beret respond to this? Are we supposed to agree with this decision?

Does Per Hansa’s consciousness deepen or evolve in the second half of the novel?

In “The Great Plains Drink the Blood of Christian Men,” what leads to Per Hansa's death?

What prompts Per Hansa to make his ill-fated trip across the winter snows?

Does he wish to leave? What are his thoughts as he departs? Under what circumstances is he found? What seems symbolic about his death?

Is the ending of the second part fully prepared for? Does it provide a fitting thematic end for the novel?

Does Per Hansa’s death alter the way in which the reader is expected to interpret the immigrant experience?

Which issues, if any, are left unresolved at the novel’s end?
Do you find the novel more or less interesting because its events parallel those which happened to thousands of settlers on the great plains?

Are some proto-feminist issues raised by/implicit in the novel’s plot and characterizations? Are these resolved to any degree? In the novel’s frame of reference, was any resolution possible?

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  Page updated: February 20, 2012 19:31